By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
WINSTON-SALEM — Members of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, which voted 6-1 Monday to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse an Appeals Court ruling against so-called “sectarian” prayers before board meetings, are simply asking for the same freedoms exercised more than 230 years ago by the nation’s Founding Fathers.
The First Continental Congress opened on Sept. 7, 1774 with a prayer that said, in part, “O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords … look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States … All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen”
“America’s founders opened public meetings with prayer. There’s no reason that today’s public officials should be forced to censor the prayers of those invited to offer them simply because secularist groups don’t like people praying according to their own conscience,” said Mike Johnson, an Alliance Defense Fund-allied attorney who argued the case for Forsyth County.
According to the resolution passed by commissioners Monday regarding the 4th Circuit Court ruling issued two weeks ago, the appeal to the nation’s High Court is contingent on ADF’s agreeing to continue to pay the county’s legal costs in the case and also on an agreement with the N.C. Partnership for Religious Liberty (NCPRL) to pick up the tab for attorney fees, costs and damages to the plaintiffs if the county loses.
Debra Conrad, the Board of Commissioners Vice Chair, told the Christian Action League that the board is in “constant contact” with ADF and that the Rev. Steve Corts, chairman of the NCPRL, was at Monday’s meeting.
She said although there are some vocal citizens that oppose the county’s effort to continue the legal fight, she believes most in Forsyth County support the lawsuit.
“I am not sure the national significance is known to most people, but I hope they become aware if we are fortunate to have our case selected by the U.S. Supreme Court for review,” she said. “Several thousand cases are submitted each year and only about 75 are chosen.”
Conrad said anyone willing to contribute financial support to the cause should contact the N.C. Partnership for Religious Liberty, which has a contract with the county and an account for such donations. No taxpayer funds have been used in the legal battle.
The lawsuit began in 2007 when the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued the Forsyth County Commission claiming three individuals were offended by prayers offered prior to the meeting. The suit attacked the Commission’s prayer policy, saying it did not discourage or prohibit “those whom the board has invited to deliver prayers from including references to Jesus Christ, or any other sectarian deity, as part of their prayers.”
The Commission, which for years issued an annual invitation to leaders of all faith groups throughout the community to sign up to offer an invocation, asked only that those prayers not disparage any other faith or exploit the opportunity by proselytizing. In his dissent to the Court of Appeals ruling, Judge Paul Niemeyer called the Forsyth policy “totally neutral, proactively inclusive, and carefully implemented so that the County, in no manner, could be perceived as selecting, or expressing a preference for a particular religion or denomination, or a particular prayer.”
Nonetheless, the practice of a pre-meeting invocation was halted because commission members refused to tell faith leaders how they could pray or to whom they could address those prayers.
“We’re pleased to see the Forsyth County Commissioners continuing to stand strong for religious liberty in America,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We pray the Supreme Court will hear the case so that justice may be served.”